A SEARCH IN SECRET EGYPT
one finds men holding the post of official rat-catcher to some municipdity in Europe. Whenever the presence of a snake was suspected in any Luxor household, or whenever one was observed to make a flitting appearance in room or garden, the startled householder would run off at once to fetch Sheikh Moussa; the latter would infallibly detect the reptile's hiding-place—whether it was in a fissure in the wall, among the beams of the roof, or in a hole in the garden—and then order the creature to emerge. As a rule it obeyed, but if it refused he would thrust his hand into the suspected refuge and grasp the reptile by its throat. After that, he would put the snake into his round basket and carry it off. When a farmer saw snakes too frequently in the field where his cattle were pasturing, he would send for Moussa and thus rid himself or the danger. Similarly, too, before the few hotels opened their dosed doors in November or December to the tourists once more, their managers would send for Moussa and have him make a thorough inspection of their premises, an inspection which sometimes developed into a thrilling snake-hunt, for snakes are fond of moving in and settling down in deserted buildings. When Moussa left the hotels, one could guarantee on oath that not a single snake was left behind—such was the efficacy of his work.
When we first sat face to face—Sheikh Moussa el Hawi and I—a crowd of forty-odd persons had congregated outside whilst he partook of some tea and fruit which I offered him. They had observed him walking slowly down the street, with his round basket and stick, the appurtenances of his profession, and they had rightly guessed that he was about to embark on active service. As the terrific heats of midsummer had fallen upon the town, the crowd of idlers and loungers who could or would do nothing, scented some excitement, some break in their monotonous, semi-lethargic state, and they had proceeded to follow him through the dusty lanes which led to my domicile. They waited patiently outside the door for the re-emergence of their whilom entertainer.
While Moussa sat in the creaking cane chair I studied his appearance. He was short in stature. He wore a flat turban made up of many folds of white linen. A triangular piece of white shirt showed on his chest, the apex pointing downwards, under a long, heavy, dark brown, coarse-textured goats'-hair robe of the type that Bedouin Arabs wear over a flowing white robe.